Last night saw the first concert of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival. The theme was “Beyond Borders” with most of the works presented; a mixture of piano, violin and vocal, having been influenced by other cultures/places or written in exile.
Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess has a really interesting history. It was always intended as a “grand opera”; pretty much the first American one. It was written for the Metropolitan Opera but not performed there until 1985 and between it’s Boston debut in 1935 and a production in Houston in 1976 it was virtually always performed in a much cut edition designed for Broadway. In fact by the time of the Houston production it was being done much at all; being seen as dated and dealing with issues of race that were particularly highly charged in Civil Rights Era America. It took a bold, young Deneral Manager, David Gockley, and a Gershwin enthusiast, John DeMain, to recreate an opera rather than a musical. It’s been following them round ever since and so, not very surprisingly, Gockley, now in charge in San Francisco, chose to stage it there last year in a new production by Francesca Zambello with DeMain conducting.
Yesterday’s lunch time concert featured bass Robert Pomakov accompanied by members of the Gryphom Trio. The programme kicked off with two songs by Glinka with Bob accompanied by Roman Borys on cello and Jamie Parker on piano. The first piece was called Lullaby but it’s hard to imagine anyone sleeping through Bob’s powerful rendering. The second piece, Doubt, showcased some lovely playing by Borys.
Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker’s A History of Opera: The Last Four Hundred Years, published in 2010,is an interesting and, occasionally, perplexing read. It looks at developments largely from a musicological perspective only rarely straying into political context and even morer rarely dealing with sociological factors surrounding opera although there is an interesting short section on French grand opéra that deals with the extent to which French opera of various kinds was subsidised and how the odd social habits of the audience shaped the works themselves.